20 Questions With Jeff Leightman

Jeff Leightman is the newest head coach in the San Jose State University Athletics Department, as the fifth leader of the Spartan women’s soccer program. Leightman comes from Binghamton University in Binghamton, N.Y., where he spent the last 10 seasons as the head coach and led the Bearcats to the 2004 America East Conference title and a 2004 NCAA Championship appearance. Also a 1995 Binghamton graduate, he leads off our 2008 summer installment of 20 Questions. San Jose State will kick off the Leightman era against nationally-ranked non-conference arch-rival Santa Clara University inside Spartan Stadium on Friday night, August 22.

What is one word that can be used to describe you?
Probably passionate, or dedicated, or crazy. I think I’m kind of a workaholic. I am very passionate about soccer, and our program, and I want to see us succeed to great levels, so I am going to pour my heart and my soul into this program to make sure that we’re doing everything that we can to succeed.

Do you have any game-day superstitions or routines?
I typically wear a jacket, shirt and tie on game days, although we have hit a losing streak before (at Binghamton) where I’ve switched over to a sweater and then we started winning so our parents would not let me switch back to a jacket and tie. They actually threatened to cut up all of my ties if they saw me wearing one.

Also, I won’t shave on game days. That’s one thing that I will not do. I will shave either the day before or two days before, but I won’t shave on a game day. That’s something I have done for a long time. I don’t know why, but every time I have (shaved on game day), we haven’t done well.

Who are some of your favorite bands and musicians?
I’m going to date myself here, and say that I do like classic rock, so I like Crosby, Stills & Nash, Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Van Halen and all those types of bands. I am an 80’s kid, so I definitely like 80’s music, as cheesy as it is.

What are some of your favorite movies? Any favorite soccer movie?
Well Victory (1981, with Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine and Pele) is obviously the best soccer movie of all-time. There’s no question about that. Other than the total disbelief you get that Sylvester Stallone could actually play soccer, Victory is a fantastic film. Also, I definitely like the genre of Caddyshack, Fletch, the Vacations (European, Christmas) and Animal House. Those are great, classic films, and then I am also a Star Wars geek.

Any favorite actors?
I would say Bill Murray, Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey are my favorite actors. Denzel Washington, also, and Morgan Freeman are tremendous.

Do you have any favorite television shows?
My two favorite shows ever were Cheers and The Simpsons, which I still watch. I won’t answer which I like better, because they are probably tied for number one. Lately, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are great, but I don’t watch that much television.

Can you share some of your initial impressions of the Bay Area?
The Bay Area is tremendous. It’s definitely a great area. It’s an area I am really excited about living in. It’s obviously quite a change from Upstate New York, in terms of geography, and culture, as well as financially-speaking. It’s a big change, but it’s a welcome change.

Talk a little bit about what made you move across the country to take over the San Jose State women’s soccer program.
This position presented an exciting new challenge. I’ve been coaching in college for 15 years. I was at Binghamton for 13 of those years, 10 as the head coach. This brought about a new challenge, a new change. My alma mater was Binghamton, so I was there for a very long time. I felt that it was time to try a different environment. This program is in a state where it definitely has the potential to go places. We have a lot of work to do to get there, but it really presented a new challenge. The other thing is that personally, the Bay Area is a tremendous area geographically, and it’s an area that I was excited to move to. I think those are the biggest reasons.

Did you play soccer growing up?
Yes, I played soccer growing up, all the time. Unfortunately, I was never as good of an athlete, as I was in thinking the game and being able to solve the game tactically and technically. My brain had to work a lot faster than my legs would work. Ironically, growing up, my coaches always would say to me, “You’re going to make a really good coach some day.” I never really listened to them until I became a coach, and then I realized that the qualities that I had, lended themselves better to be a coach than a player. But I grew up playing the game for a long, long time, since I was four years old.

If you could go back in time, what sport would you want to compete in?
I would have learned how to skate, so I would have been able to play hockey when I was younger. I started playing hockey as an adult, in adult leagues, and it’s such a great game, but I was never a very good skater. I would have learned how to skate at a younger age, so it didn’t take me three years to turn.

What are some of the things you like to do when you are away from soccer?
I definitely like playing golf, and just basically being with friends. I’m pretty much up for just about everything. I like traveling.

Golf handicap?
Uhhh, yes, golf is a handicap. I probably shoot in the mid-80s when I’m playing well.

What has been your favorite place you have visited?
I would say London is the favorite place I’ve been. London was great, and going to a Premiership (professional soccer) match, Chelsea versus Bolton, back in, I guess it was around 2004 now, was just a tremendous experience. It was a Super Bowl environment in a regular-season match, and it was just great. The culture in London, the architecture, the total different type of cultures that are there, it was just a great place to visit.

What would be your dream vacation spot?
Yeah, I want to go to Italy. Italy and Australia are the two places I haven’t been, that I would love to go, especially Venice (in Italy).

What has been your most memorable moment in athletics?
I would say probably two that I can think of off the top of my head. One was in 1996, winning the national championship at North Carolina. And then the second one would be our 2004 America East (Conference) championship at Binghamton. Those would be probably the two biggest memorable moments as far as coaching goes.

What is one thing about the East Coast that you miss?
I miss the pace of the East Coast, honestly. I think the East Coast is more intense. Everything moves faster. It’s not as spread out as California. The best way I can describe it is on the East Coast, if you drive four to five hours, you’re probably in six or seven states, whereas out here, you’re still in one state. There are major cities every two to three hours, whereas out here they are a little more spread out. I think the pace of life is different. It’s definitely more relaxed (here), which is a good thing, but it takes some time to adjust to that when you are used to a fast-paced life. I really like it here, but it is different than the East Coast.

What style of soccer do you prefer to have your teams play?
We want to play, I call it, a schizophrenic style, and people laugh at that. When we have the ball, we want it to be beautiful. We are going to play a very entertaining, attacking style. But where we are a little bit different, is that when we don’t have the ball, we are going to be very workmanlike and very hard, defensively. So, it’s kind of contrasting styles, but that’s our philosophy.

Do you have any favorite places yet in this area?
Obviously, I love San Francisco. I’ve been there many, many times. I’ve only been to Santa Cruz, once so far, but I like it there. Going down 17-Mile Drive and seeing Pebble Beach, that was great. Leave it to a golfer to identify a golf course as a favorite spot. I do remember from when I was growing up and coming to San Francisco, the Lincoln Park Golf Club, where the 17th hole overlooks the Golden Gate Bridge and the cliffs there and that was an awesome, awesome thing about this area.

Do you have any professional sports teams that you root for? How about any pro soccer players past or present, men or women, that you admire? Coaches?
Manchester United and the Washington Redskins are the two loves. I think Kristine Lilly is probably the most underrated player of all-time in women’s soccer. I think the world of her. Probably the greatest player to ever play the game, that people wouldn’t say, they would say Mia Hamm, but actually, Michelle Akers, in her prime, was probably the best women’s soccer player that has ever played the game.

On the men’s side, I would say, right now, Cristiano Ronaldo is probably the best player in the world, but there are a lot of great players on the men’s side, really fun players to watch, over in Europe. Obviously, the U.S. is up and coming, and is really producing some personality players now, which is good, in (Landon) Donovan, (DaMarcus) Beasley and (Freddy) Adu.

I’ve had a whole bunch of coaches that I’ve admired. In my own career of coaches that I have worked for, each of them in their own way, has helped me to where I am, whether it be (University of North Carolina women’s soccer head coach) Anson (Dorrance), or Dave Wilson, who was the first coach that I worked for at Binghamton. (Dave) really taught me a lot about recruiting and about personality, charisma, just presence. Anson (was influential) tactically, and (taught me) about the game and the game at a really high level, and philosophies in how a program is not just soccer. It’s other things as well. I’ve learned a lot from a number of coaches over the years, so to name just one or two would probably be unfair.

There really isn’t anything in coaching that is original. For anybody to think that they have created something, is really either nave or arrogant. You basically steal ideas from everybody, and you mold yourself from ideas from everybody. You take pieces of everybody, but it’s how you organize those ideas, and how you put your stamp on it, that really makes it your own. I’ve taken a whole bunch and made it my own, and I definitely owe it to all those people.

Who is your pick to win the 2008 European Soccer Championship, currently taking place in Switzerland and Austria?
That is tough. I like the way that Portugal is playing. Holland is fun to watch as well, but I’m going to pick Spain.

What do you like best about coaching?
The thing that I like most about coaching, especially at this level, is that it’s really not just about soccer. Soccer is a game, and it’s great and it’s fun, but it’s really not everything. What we try and do is we try and harness lessons in life. Sport is a great environment where there are lessons in life that you can’t learn anywhere else. That’s just a tremendously unique and wonderful aspect of sport. That’s what I love about coaching the most. We can influence and impact the lives of young women, in ways that nobody else in their lives can. That’s a really rewarding aspect of coaching. We can see these young women really develop in four years, dramatically, and then they leave our program and they really become great people in live. That’s the most rewarding part of my job.

How did you first decide that you wanted to be a coach?
As a soccer player while growing up, I always thought about (coaching), but I didn’t really take it seriously. When I went to college, I was actually pre-med and wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon. I became a student trainer. I wanted to work with the men’s soccer team. The men’s soccer team already had a trainer, so our trainer put me with the women’s soccer team, which was fine with me, although I didn’t really know too much about women’s soccer at the time. It was just kind of getting going. It was just starting to boom. I really liked it. Our head coach at the time, Dave Wilson, said to me after a while, “You really know what you’re doing. Would you like to be a student assistant?” I said sure. I started working with him. He really gave me a great opportunity. That was the beginning of my coaching career. After that, I just fell in love with it so much that I decided not to go to medical school and continued to coach.

How do you view the Western Athletic Conference in women’s soccer?
It’s a little too early to tell. I really don’t know enough to paint an accurate picture of the WAC. Obviously, we are going to do everything we can to be competitive and to be near the top, or at the top. We’ve got a chance to do that. For me to say, “Oh yeah, we’re going to come in and win the WAC,” wouldn’t be giving the other schools the respect that they deserve and have earned over the years. All I can say is we’re going to work like crazy to at least be the hardest-working team in the WAC, and then build from there. We need to build a culture where we are going to be a favorite or one of the elite teams in the WAC every year. We’ve got to do all the necessary things in order to get to that point. We’ve got work to do to get there, but that will be our goal and our mission.

This week’s 20 Questions was brought to you by The Grill On The Alley.

Past 2007-08 20 Questions
August 22 - Colleen Burke, Women's Volleyball
September 12 - Nick Cukar, Men's Soccer
September 26 - Amber Silverstone, Women's Tennis
October 17 - Jillene Golez, Women's Swimming
October 24 - Kelly Crow, Volleyball
October 31 - Heather Oranje, Women's Soccer
November 14 - Richard Mann, Men's Soccer
November 21 - Amanda Carr, Women's Swimming
November 28 - Pam DeCosta, Women's Basketball
December 12 - Eileen Daley, Academic Services
December 19 - Holiday Edition
January 2 - DaShawn Wright, Men's Basketball
January 9 - Tim Pierce, Men's Basketball
January 16 - Raylyn Cardeno, Women's Gymnastics
February 13 - Kasey Igarta, Softball
February 20 - Beste Erener & Katey Nelson, Women's Swimming
March 5 - Kanika Minocha, Women's Golf
March 12 - Jennifer Williams, Women's Tennis
March 26 - Casey Jay, Women's Gymnastics
April 16 - Cristina Corpus, Women's Golf
April 23 - Roxanne Larijani, Women's Tennis
April 30 - Dannielle Brown, Softball
May 6 - John Dormann, Women's Golf
May 13 - Kyle Bellows, Baseball
June 13 - Jeff Leightman, Women's Soccer